Translation

In The Hidden Bend, the Ukrainian mother, Nastasiya, is in New York and dealing with authorities in a language, English, which she barely speaks. She has an appointed translator to explain facts to her and to carry out her decisions, but otherwise, she is mute. She is restricted in her own mind.

Another character in The Hidden Bend, Piers, escapes to France and finds a similar linguistic barrier but without a translator. His real translation problem is the woman he is with and the difficulty in sharing with her the same sense or meaning.

The Hidden Bend’s Asian soldier character has a more nuanced and treacherous translation problem: the words that meant something during the revolutionary war have changed meaning after the revolution. And the alteration in meaning threatens him.

The problem of definitions and of language more generally was part of a few stories in Nine Avenues: Spoken and Heard and most ostensibly in Dictionary.

In My Wife the idea of translation is taken further through the detective story of the narrator in Europe, amidst languages he does not know, interpreting the behavior and rationale of people at a certain time in order to solve a historical puzzle.

And in Corporate, specifically in The Complete Story (With Notes), the piece is a narrative about making stories, about choices and how several items are converted into the bits, character and episodes, which constitute a story.

When tropes keep recurring the reason for them may be intrinsic. In my case it may be moving between different dialects of English: America, Australia and England at various times, understanding and negotiating idioms and definitions, later adding other languages, and perhaps the seed for this translation leitmotif is clearer.

 

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Computer

Every year a major dictionary will produce a list of words coined that year which have instantly attained currency. These words are often related to social, technological or political situations. Some will last; many will be forgotten in ten years, along with the circumstances of their usage.

Now think back to the 1650s and spare a thought for an editor when he, and it will be a he, read these words for the first time: holocaust, ambidextrous, literary, prairie, migrant, and computer. He would have needed explanatory notes to understand what they meant. Perhaps he thought to himself, “This buzzword is not an improvement and my printer is confused which is costing me more in print costs. And besides, computer is not very durable. It won’t last.”  Anyway, prairie is a French word, a meadow, so here it is English absorbing (stealing) words from elsewhere to fill a gap or augment choices.

Some of those words retain the initial meaning when Thomas Browne created them. Computer, though, has been transformed a lot. Even in the last 50 years computer signified something different to what we now refer to, and its definition then was of an electricity sub-station sized object. But those were the days when hardware was man’s work and software was written by women.

What is notable about Browne’s vocabulary is that he saw the need to make a word to describe and articulate his scientific work. He recognized a phenomenon for which no word then existed. This underlines what Pinker says about language and psychology: that language is not the limit of thought as a Viennese proclaimed. It is also more substantial than using an extant word for something resembling another object: cell, for instance.

Apart from giving us the vocabulary to do science and technology and engineering, Browne was a debunker. His Pseudodoxia Epidemica – superb title – refuted common errors and superstitions: “That there are different passages for Meat and Drink, the Meat or dry aliment descending by the one, the Drink or moistning vehicle by the other, is a popular Tenent in our daies…”

We could do with an updated version of this book and make it available to the lifestyle, health and pseudo-nutritionist experts.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.